Plan now: Your pets and preparing for the unthinkable

When Ruby Wallace died, her little dog had no one to care for it. After hearing of Ruby’s death, her great-niece offered to take the dog in, but it was already too late. The small black Spaniel mix had slipped from the house when no one was watching and had been hit by a car.

What would happen to your pets if you became seriously ill or suddenly died? With a written plan in place, you can ensure that they don’t end up lost, dead, or in a shelter.

Start with a pet-loving friend or neighbor. Put in writing an agreement that if something happens to you, that person is authorized to care for your pet. Give copies to your veterinarian and to the executor of your estate. In the event of your death, legal website recommends making the decision legally binding by including it in your will. A simple statement — “I leave my dog Harper to my friend Tamela Klisura,” for instance — is all you need.

Of course, your friend should agree in advance to take on the responsibility. It’s also a good idea to have a plan B in case circumstances change for your first choice. Name at least one additional person as an alternate beneficiary. You may also direct that your pet be cared for by one person and the funds for his care managed by another person.

If possible, you should leave an amount of money in trust to help cover your pet’s expenses. An attorney can help you set up a valid pet trust as well as explain the different types of trusts and their advantages and disadvantages. Some types of trusts are funded while you are still living, while others are provided for in your will and do not take effect until your death.

What if your friends and family love you, but they don’t love animals? You have other options to provide for your pet. For a fee, some humane societies, veterinary schools, and private organizations offer “retirement homes” for pets or will take pets in and find new homes for them. Costs range from a few thousand dollars to $25,000 or more. Factors that affect cost include the type of facility, the services offered, and the size or number of animals.

Contact local humane organizations, rescue groups, and veterinary schools to find what they offer. Among the veterinary schools that offer such programs are Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, Purdue University, and Texas A&M University. The Washington Animal Rescue League has a Guardian Angels program, and the San Francisco SPCA has its Sido Service.

Your death isn’t the only threat to your pet’s well being. If you are injured in an accident or develop a life-threatening illness, you may be unable to care for your pet for weeks or even months. Carry a card with you that lists emergency contact information, including the name of the person authorized to care for your animals, as well as a backup caretaker in case the first person is unavailable.

Provide your pet’s designated caretakers with house keys and instructions in advance about caring for your pet. They should cover such things as the type of food he eats and how much, regular medications and how to give them, how to groom him and how often, daily routines, commands and tricks he knows, and contact information for your veterinarian.

Knowing that your pets will be cared for if something happens to you will make life easier. More important, it protects your pets.

Note: This article not a substitute for advice from a licensed attorney.